Not to be confused with ‘The Blind Man’ from the Don’t Breathe movies – or the Neil Young song of the same title – Old Man puts excellent character actor Stephen Lang front row and center. For much of his career, Lang has shined in strong supporting role from Gods and Generals to James Cameron’s mega-hit Avatar. Now Lang gets a chance to command the screen in the little indie thriller from RLJE Films, Old Man. A small cast and single setting mean Lang gets to flex his muscles a bit more here. And critics seem mildly impressed with the results.
Somewhere out in the Great Smoky Mountains, a reclusive ‘old man’ wakes up to a knocking at his cabin door. A stranger calling himself Joe has turned on his doorstep, lost and looking for help. But Joe finds himself in a combustible situation with mistrustful and paranoid man. Or maybe it’s Joe who’s hiding a dark secret.
Old Man Struggles to Outreach Its Small Setting
First and foremost, Old Man structures itself like a chamber play unfolding in a single setting and driven by dialogue. Like another recent horror release House of Darkness, suspense is meant to flow from the conversation itself and hidden meanings in what the main characters say or let slip. Director Lucky McKee (May, All Cheerleaders Die, The Woman) has a pretty good track record for offbeat genre fare. But he’s limited by the setting and nature of a story almost entirely reliant on dialogue. McKee keeps things moving briskly enough and does his best move the camera moving round the ramshackle cabin. Nevertheless, Old Man never capitalizes on its isolated setting. What little action surfaces never shocks in the way it intends.
Director Lucky McKee has a pretty good track record for offbeat genre fare. But he’s limited by the setting and nature of a story almost entirely reliant on dialogue.
For better or worse, Old Man’s strengths – and limitations – flow from the conversations between its two characters by necessity. As such, the thrillers needs both sizzling dialogue and a mystery worth unwrapping. Screenwriter Joel Veach sort of scores on the latter while just missing on the former. There’s big ideas in Veach’s story – the ambition outreaches the single setting. As the mystery unwinds itself in the climax, Old Man yearns to tell a story about grief and guilt and our inability to escape these things. Unfortunately, the mystery itself becomes pretty evident quickly and the dialogue isn’t as sharp as may be necessary. Old Man reaches for big things, but falls just a bit short.
Old Man Does Well By Its Casting of Veteran Character Actor Stephen Lang
For the vast majority of its runtime, Old Man is a two-person show anchored by Stephen Lang and Marc Senter. As expected, Lang (Don’t Breathe, VFW) turns in a convincing performance as the titular ‘old man’, which does wonders for carrying much of the movie. Both the movie’s single-setting locale and mystery narrative require the veteran character actor to convey a lot of things. And Lang is all things required of him. His ‘old man’ is equal parts erratic and confused while also channeling anger, mistrust, and bits of menace. It’s a performance that enhances the thriller’s mystery, leaving viewers uncertain about the character and his motivations almost long enough.
And Lang is all things required of him. His ‘old man’ is equal parts erratic and confused while also channeling anger, mistrust, and bits of menace.
On the other hand, Marc Senter – playing lost traveler ‘Joe’ – isn’t quite as convincing. Though Senter’s performance isn’t weak by any measure, he often feels miscast. During its first half, Senter never quite convinces as a man caught in dire circumstances in spite of his best efforts. No sense of desperation seems evident. And once the story shifts and bits of the central mystery unfold, Senter’s intensity doesn’t rise to the same level as what Lang exhibits. As a result, the story remains mostly cerebral and fails to elicit an emotional investment or response.
Old Man …
A chamber play put up on the screen, Old Man wants to grapple with some pretty big issues including grief, guilt, and punishment. Certainly, no one’s going to dispute this little thriller’s ambition. Do McKee and writer Joel Veach hit their lofty goals? Lang’s performance goes a long way and Old Man achieves a few moments of uncomfortable suspense. But many viewers will untangle the mystery by the thriller’s midpoint. Arguably, the finale also lacks to the intended shock and, as a result, the impact of the themes feel a little underwhelming. Ultimately, Old Man does enough to engages audiences straight up to its climax, but may struggle to stand out once it’s done.